[Viewpoint] Consequences for unruly legislators

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[Viewpoint] Consequences for unruly legislators

Foreign Policy, a bimonthly magazine founded by the historian Samuel Huntington, who wrote “The Clash of Civilizations,” and former Ambassador of the United States to Denmark Warren Manshel, has mainly dealt with Korea in terms of security issues and North Korea.

However, the National Assembly has emerged as a new topic in the magazine, which wrote that Korea’s legislature is not the great hall of the people but a bloody battleground full of men wielding hammers, power saws and fire extinguishers.

One writer compared Korean democracy between the ruling Grand National Party and the opposition parties to a contact sport that uses every part of the human body.

The Assembly has become infamous as one of the world’s top sites for legislative violence. Korea may enjoy international prestige in the global economy and may be a member state of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but this taints our reputation as a country of courteous people in the East.

Media in the United States are highlighting the problem of strife in the U.S. Congress, as Republican House of Representatives member Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!” during a prime-time address by United States President Barack Obama to a special joint session. The U.S. Congress has underlined the importance of manners in the legislature, out of respect for the separation of powers.

The manual for parliamentary procedure by Thomas Jefferson in 1801 laid out standards for representatives’ manners, and this year the House created the first similar manual since 1909. It stipulated that sneering, mocking and personal attacks on the president shall be prohibited and disciplinary action shall be taken against reckless behavior, such as inappropriate words and personal attacks on colleagues at regular meetings.

Parties will also punish members reprimanded for rudeness with restrictions on whether they can be appointed to chairperson or permanent committee or subcommittee posts. New members, aides and staff members in the House, with no exception, receive an ethics training within 60 days from the date they are elected or appointed. The ethical code they must follow consists of more than 456 pages.

Denial of the authority of the Speaker of the House, violations of the rules of the House of Commons and intentional interference with procedures constitute grounds for suspension in the British Parliament. No annual allowance is granted during the period of suspension.

In France, if someone engages in the unlawful exercise of physical force at an open conference or engages in insults, demagoguery or threats to the president, prime minister, cabinet members or lawmakers, or participates in demonstrations proscribed by the Constitution, reprimands including suspension from one’s post or an order not to attend the legislative session may be imposed. The amount of benefits a lawmaker receives may also be reduced according to the degree of the disciplinary action. For violent acts, lawmakers may be indicted by judicial authorities.

Of course, Korea’s National Assembly Act prohibits any breach of order in the hall, along with insults, violence, disturbances and any behavior likely to hamper parliamentary progress.

In addition, any person who obstructs the deliberations of the National Assembly, insults others or causes any disturbance is supposed be sentenced to imprisonment or a fine pursuant to Article 138 of the Criminal Act. However, the people in charge of making laws do not abide by these laws. Not a single lawmaker has made any public apology to his or her constituents for disrespecting the National Assembly.

We should carry out intense ethics education for both lawmakers and their staff to wipe off the dishonor that has been cast upon Korea’s Assembly. Any lawmaker who exercised verbal or physical violence for any reason should suffer some tangible punishment or sanction, such as a suspension of their annual allowance, restrictions on whether they can be assigned to posts within the Assembly, or even restrictions on running in future elections.

Voters should show how powerful they are. They can prevent politicians who committed violent offenses from gaining a toehold in the Assembly or the administration. This is the only way to erase the shameful memories of violence at the National Assembly from the history of Korea’s democracy.

*The writer is a chair-professor at Sejong University.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Joung-won

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